Ushio to Tora – 24

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Okay, so this episode, taking place back in Ushio’s hometown and featuring Inoue Mayuko as the protagonist, feels a little filler-y after all the excitement with Ushio, Kirio, and the Spear. In fact, with only two eps left after this, I wouldn’t be surprised if Ushio to Tora continues another cour or two, as shows with rich tapestries like Sket Dance and Fairy Tail did (and it apparently will go a third…dang MAL!)

Whatever the case, this episode had little to do with the main storyline, and Ushio was only in the beginning and the end, helped with digestive troubles by Asako. And that’s okay. Mayuko, meanwhile, ends up hanging out—and being saved again—by Tora, whose crush on her goes far beyond a desire to eat her for dessert after Ushio. And it’s never a bad time for Mayuko.

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The monster-of-the-week plot is pretty thin: a pair of nasty ones suck the brains of those who can’t or won’t answer a “question.” For some extremely random and bizarre reason, they’ve chosen Mayuko as their next victim, and she accepts an invitation to the “dinner party” where they await her.

Tora’s not about to let some other monsters eat Mayuko, so he follows her—but not before demonstrating a power I don’t think we’ve seen from him before: the ability to shapeshift into a double of her. While I can’t think of an instance of when this power would have been useful in Ushio and Tora’s many past battles, that doesn’t mean there isn’t one.

It’s mostly played for laughs, and though it’s quite disturbing to see the sweet Mayuko’s face contort and scowl just like Tora, watching him scare the crap out of some aggressive guys on the street was worth it.

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Ushio blasts into the unusually huge office where Mayuko has the question put to her and rescues her while in her form, surprising her to no end. The two baddies, one of whom looks like Albert Einstein (famous for a photo where he’s sticking his tongue out that adorns many a dorm room wall), have been trying to get the question of why so many humans don’t seem to mind dying for causes other than their own answered…but it’s all a bit thin.

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In fact, this enemy’s existence seems tailor-made to provide commentary on how Mayuko, who was inspired by selfless action by Ushio in the past (trudging in the mud to save her hat), wants to become like him. That’s why, despite the fact she wouldn’t mind being Ushio’s wife, she’s willing to stand aside and let Asako have him, because she loves them both, and their happiness is hers.

Naturally, Tora doesn’t quite “get it”, but then again, like Ushio, Mayuko is someone he can’t quite stay away from, nor is he in a hurry to make good on his threat to eat her. Oh, but they do dawdle a lot in some abandoned department store, where she tries on at wedding dress…just to drive the point home.

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As a result of their dawdling, the baddies come back and corner the two. Mayuko sheds the dress, dons a shirt made out of Tora hair (wasn’t her top with her skirt?) and then Tora transforms back into her, splitting up the enemy. The snake-man follows Tora, mistaking him for Mayuko, and once he’s wide open, “Tora-ko” takes him out.

Mayuko doesn’t have much in the way of combat skills, but she does have spirit and the ability to confound those who can’t grasp her mindset, so when the Einstein toad-man grabs her and threatens to suck out her brain if she doesn’t answer him, she decides to take a literal leap of faith.

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Tora, after all, had never failed to save her in the past, and whenever she found herself falling to her death, she always ended up being scooped up in those big fuzzy arms of his and landing softly on the ground. So it is this time. And when Tora delivers her back to Ushio’s doorstep where a recovered Ushio and Asako receive them, Tora can’t help but finally address Mayuko by name.

Like Ushio, he may not ever be able to come right out and say it, but what he has in Mayuko is a dear friend whom he wants to protect, even if, like Ushio, she can be a selfless, kind-hearted fool. And who can blame him?…Mayuko is surpassingly adorable, and so were their interactions this week. Mayuko to Tora wouldn’t have been that bad of a show…

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Ushio to Tora – 23

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Hinowa and Nagare buy Ushio time to advance towards the Beast Spear, but Kuin comes out to meet him. Tora tags along, but totally not because of Ushio; he just wants to fight Kuin. With no spear, Ushio can only hit Kuin with rocks, but even when Kuin seems to get the better of Tora, Ushio doesn’t stop hitting him with rocks.

Tora finally gets fed up and exerts a little more energy into the fight, saving Ushio from getting stabbed, cracking Kuin’s faceplate, and continuing to duel with him, buying Ushio more time to advance. I guess seeing Ushio not acting like a defeated wimp made him want to preserve his future dinner, huh?

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Inside the very carefully-staged chamber where the spear is about to get dunked, Kirio puts Ushio on the ground, then listens as his mom Towako plays a dirge on her cello under a single narrow pillar of sunlight creeping through a hole in the roof. Theatrical much??? Anyway, when she’s done, Ushio can’t stop Towako from cutting the red cloth and sending the spear plunging into the molten metal.

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For a second there, it looks like the show just destroyed its protagonist’s one and only weapon, which would be quite a dire eventuality. But then, out of the shadows, Ushio’s dad tells the sect members, confused by Towako’s presence, that this whole thing was of Hakumen’s making. Towako is another one of his minions, who created and raised Kirio for the express purpose of destroying her master’s anathema—the Beast Spear.

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In hindsight, I should have known from the look of her eyes that Towako was somehow related to the final boss. To see her mother in this new monstrous form, telling him everything she’s ever done wasn’t for him, but for the destruction of the spear, is all a bit much young Kirio, who proceeds to go bye-bye. And for the first time, I actually sympathize with the little bastard. All this time I knew what he was—nothing but a tool—but he never did, while I didn’t know whose tool he was until now.

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Speaking of tools, Ushio is, at the end of the day, the Beast Spear’s tool as much as it is his. He needs the spear to defeat Hakumen, while it—or rather Kiryou within it—needs him to wield him, even if it means his soul getting torn to shreds. When Ushio calls the spear once more, it emerges triumphantly from the solidified metal and into his hands. For the first time, Towako frowns, and her attacks are shattered by a revitalized Ushio in Beast Mode.

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Sensing a stronger resistance to her plans, Towako summons her stone golem, who still has a weakened Hinowa and Nagare in its clutches. Towako tries to give Ushio the choice of giving up his own life to save the others (a false choice, since she’ll kill them anyway for sure) or let them die. The two of them start the incantation for a self-destruct spell, forcing Ushio’s hand. He takes out the golem before they blow themselves up.

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Her golem gone, Towako reverts to her “human” form and beseeches a still-in-shock Kirio to help his “mama” from the bad guys. Now, up to this point, Towako really has been Kirio’s mama, and by far the most important person in his life. So it’s not really a surprise that he’d fall for her treachery once more and turn his scythe on Ushio. But only once more.

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When Kirio sees his “mama” encircling the sect members in the blue flames of a Hakumen minion, even he can’t ignore his eyes, nor his ears as she gloats about everyone writhing in hell. He stabs her, asks her once more if she’s tricked him all along, then hears more of her lies for what they are before she bursts into flames and vanishes.

Now, Kirio is pretty pissed, despairs that it’s all over and blames Ushio and everyone else for killing his mama as he lashes out at them with his scythe. Ushio calms him down by crossing spears and giving him one hell of a slap to the face. Nothing is over. People suffered and died so they can live and complete their mission to destroy Hakumen. Annoying he may be, but Ushio’s going to need Kirio in the coming showdown.

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He’s going to need everyone, as Oyakume said they’ll all have to work together in order to achieve victory. The rift that Towako created in the Kouhamei sect with Kirio shows just how far Hakumen is willing to go to stop his enemies from getting to him, but now they’re united against him like never before. Kirio may need a little time to process all of this, but there’s not much time left.

Meanwhile, Ushio is done with losing and done with letting anyone else die for him. He almost lost himself when he lost the spear, but getting it back made the fire in his belly burn even brighter and stronger…and that’s more than enough to bring Tora back to his side, as that fire will make him that much tastier a meal when the time is right.

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Ushio to Tora – 22

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Sensitive as Ushio is, especially when it comes to mother figures, he remains emotionally drained and doubtful of his own strength in the wake of the loss of Oyakume. Logical arguments like it was her choice, and perhaps she was always meant only to live long enough to protect Ushio there and then against the minion of Hakumen, won’t dissuade him from his spiral of despair.

As for Tora, he gets sick of this attitude real fast, and tries to snap Ushio out of his funk by threatening to kill and eat him in his weakened state. Ushio listlessly fights back, causing Tora to conclude he’s far too weak to be worth eating, so he’s peace-ing out until he is.

Ushio and Tora may have become near-as-makes-no-difference friends, but Tora’s not the hand-holding, comforting kinda friend; he’ll split if things get whiny and boring. After all, Ushio’s weakness uncomfortably reminds Tora of just how strange an tenuous a relationship they have, which makes him question his own strength in terms of being a Big Bad Monster.

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Conveniently, Tora’s absence leaves Ushio open to a confrontation with Kirio and a group of ten Kouhamei monks who steal the Beast Spear, intending to destroy it in favor of Elzaar Scythes, the “superior” holy weapons.

Meanwhile, Kouhamei sect members who haven’t fallen in with Kirio—Nagare and Hinowa—both act to support Ushio. Tora hooks up with Nagare, who at the moment is more interesting than Ushio, while Hinowa’s loyalty to the high priest and late Oyakume won’t allow her to let Ushio or the Beast Spear be destroyed.

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Hinowa and Ushio get an education on the Inasa, a former sect member who raised Kirio. Driven by his fear for Hakumen, he grew so obsessed with developing weapons that he started to believe he could make one better than the Beast Spear, using a forbidden combo of sorcery and science that got him excommunicated. He took up residence in the “House of Whisperers,” which is where Nagare and Tora begin their search for Kirio and the Spear.

What we basically have, then, are two very common genre concepts—mad scientist and his haunted mansion—cloaked in an Ushio to Tora skin. Which is fine; again, we knew he’d have to contend with one more would-be successor (albeit one who wants to destroy, not wield the spear), it’s just that Ushio’s crisis of confidence feels like a rehash, and we’re with Tora when he says a weak Ushio is a boring one.

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Nagare and Hinowa, on the other hand, are their usual delightful selves, with the former offering Tora some interesting insights about his life, (seeking a life of excitement while stopping short of putting his own life on the line for others), while the latter is constantly scolding Ushio for his lack of manners and propriety, but not hesitating to help him, because she believes he’s the true wielder.

Then there’s Towako, a woman who comes out of nowhere to help Inasa advance his research and perfect Elzaar scythes. Another evil crazy-eyed character? Sure, why not?

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Towako seems like some kind of dark muse for Inasa, until she steals an infant and decides they’ll use it to create the “materia”, the ultimate artificial spiritual warrior who will wield the Elzaar Scythe, and along with Kuin take out Hakumen no Mono. They share the desired end with Kouhamei Sect, but it’s the means that are so, so wrong, to the point that even Inasa isn’t really fully on board with creating Kirio, though he’s not strong enough to step in and stop it.

Inasa ended up dying in that house, while Towako is still around somewhere, having raised and twisted Kirio into her instrument. But you know what? Despite learning that Kirio had a rough upbringing and probably suffered much at the hands of people who were, charitably, on the cusp of insanity, the bottom line is I still don’t much like Kirio.

Revealing him as a GMO Monster that can only act as programmed doesn’t make him any more sympathetic or compelling a character. He’s literally a tool, and an obstacle to Ushio, and whether he’s killed or joins the cause, I’d prefer if he was dealt with sooner rather than later.

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